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Review: ‘Baden Baden’ charts off-center path for spirited young Frenchwoman

Baden Baden
Salomé Richard and Swann Arlaud in “Baden Baden.”
(ChevaldeuxTrois / Tarantula)

As the delightfully off-center “Baden Baden” opens, 26-year-old Ana, played with gawky charm by Salomé Richard, is working as a driver for a film production and doing a lousy job of it. “I’m sure you’ll find a job that suits you better,” the film’s lead actress tells her with sincerity.

That’s a pretty safe bet, but Rachel Lang’s first feature isn’t about placing Ana on the road to her life’s purpose; it’s a serpentine trip through impetuous leaps forward and messy retreats. For good measure, Ana keeps the movie company’s Porsche as long as she can. She may not know where she’s going, but she knows a swell ride when she sees it.

Writer-director Lang explored the character with Richard in two shorts, and there’s a lived-in feel to the portrait that emerges in the visually adventurous “Baden Baden,” which weaves darkly luminous fantasy imagery into Ana’s mostly aimless hours.

Back in her native Strasbourg after time away, Ana grasps onto what she can, most of it a source of confusion. Her friendship with Simon (Swann Arlaud) moves between the playful and the carnal, while the lure of her ex, Boris (Olivier Chantreau), a pampered visual artist whose career is taking off, sets off alarms for everyone who cares about her.

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Ana’s impulsive DIY bathroom project for her terrifically unsentimental grandmother (Claude Gensac) becomes a wonderful deadpan focal point. She and an equally clueless Gregoire (Lazare Gousseau), enlisted from a home-improvement store, don matching yellow hardhats. Side by side, if not quite together, they teach themselves to build something.

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‘Baden Baden’ 

In French, German and English with English subtitles

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Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes 

Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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